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PRO Team: Field Notes

Historic Oakland Foundation has been fortunate enough to employ the assistance of a master mason this summer in order to complete the restoration of the Bobby Jones Gateway. On a few occasions over the past few weeks, members of the PRO Team have had the pleasure of working with Ray Hall, An Alabama-born stonemason who has been in the business for more than 40 years. The breadth and width of his skill set are vast, but he was brought on particularly for his expertise in the restoration of stone and brick walls.
The Bobby Jones Gateway contains many retaining walls surrounding family plots and bordering brick walkways that have succumbed to the forces of time and nature over the years. Thanks to Ray and his apprentice, Chipper, the joints of these walls have been repointed to match the color and shape of the original mortar, a task that requires great patience as well as instincts that can only be acquired after years of careful practice.
Working with Ray and helping him repoint a “bead joint” was an enlightening experience.  Most people, including myself, can walk past a brick or stone wall and never think twice about the work that went into making every joint look smooth and uniform.2015080595124308
Like most good jobs, preparation is key. We started by cleaning out old and failing mortar using hand tools. We mixed up a batch of mortar to a specific color and texture to match the original, then loaded up grout bags, which look and work similar to cake icing bags (for those readers who are bakers.) First you build up one layer, then let it set just the right amount before adding another bead. This application, too, is allowed to set until thumbprint hard, when you then use a beading tool to form the bead. You have to keep the tool wet so that it pulls the mortar smoothly for a nice finished look. Finally, the extra mortar that squeezes out after tooling has to set up a bit before being carefully removed, and the whole thing gently brushed to get the nice clean finish. Whew!
After actually doing this work myself, I have a new-found appreciation for stone masonry. It is more than a trade, or even a craft. Stone masonry, when done with the finesse and a meticulous eye for detail that Ray uses, is an art form.
Ashley Shares is a Masters of Historic Preservation Candidate at Georgia State University working at Oakland Cemetery as a summer intern. 

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